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Archive for December, 2010

If Jesus were born today one thing he certainly wouldn’t be–is a Christian.

Mark Twain (American writer, 1835-1910)

 In the first chapter of his #1 New York Times best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren writes, “It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”[1] If God has a purpose for everyone then it would certainly be elucidative to know what the purpose was of the 3,000 people who lost their lives in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and what purpose was being served for the 160,000 people who lost their lives in Indonesia’s tsunami in December, 2004.

This Blog article doesn’t deal with some sky God’s supernatural pre-ordained purpose for your life that is surprise, surprise, mysteriously hidden from you; rather it is a forthright approach to help people understand the true nature of religious belief. Part of that understanding is to first describe what Americans in fact believe. 

 A recent poll was taken in 2004 by the Harris Interactive Organization. Some 2,306 adults were polled for their attitudes toward a belief in God.[2]  Attitudes toward the concept of a God varied greatly depending upon the group surveyed. Ten percent of Protestants, 21 percent of Roman Catholics, and 52 percent of Jews do NOT believe in God.

 The survey also revealed a number of other interesting research findings relating to belief in God and church attendance such as:

 Americans are more likely to believe in God and to attend religious services than people in most other developed countries, particularly in Europe.

  • 79 percent of Americans believe there is a God, but only 66 percent are absolutely certain of it. Nine percent do not believe in God and 12 percent are not sure.
  • 26 percent say they attend services every week while 55 percent say they attend services a few times a year or more.[3]

When data from geographical location, religious organization, and age, sex, and race were disaggregated, findings again revealed large differences of opinion:

 Eighty-two percent of Midwesterners and Southerners believe in God, compared with 75 percent in the East and West.

  • Protestants are more likely to attend church once a month or more often (47percent) than are Roman Catholics (35 percent) or Jews (16 percent).
  • 71 percent of 25-29 year olds believe in God. For people over 40 the percent increases to 80 percent. For those 65 and older the number increases again to 83 percent. The data suggest that as people get older a larger percentage believe in God.
  • 84 percent of women believe in God, compared with 73 percent of men.
  • 91 percent of African Americans believe in God, compared with 81 percent of Hispanics and 78 percent of whites. [4]

When political orientation and education were taken into account the following findings were revealed:

87 percent of Republicans believe in God, compared with 78 percent of   Democrats and 75 percent of Independents.

  • 82 percent of those with no college education believe in God, compared with 73 percent who went to college. [5]

 

Attitudes of Christian Evangelicals

In April 2004 a survey was reported by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc. for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.[6] There were 1610 adults in the sample used with an over-sampling of Christian evangelicals. Who were being taped for analysis were those who considered themselves not to be Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Mormon and who saw themselves as fundamentalist, evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal Protestants.

 Their research findings revealed the following attitudes and characteristics of evangelicals:

 A large majority of white evangelicals oppose gay marriage (84 percent) and civil unions (73 percent).

  • A strong majority of all evangelicals feel the mass media is hostile to their moral and spiritual values.
  • Almost half (48 percent) believe that evangelical Christians are looked down upon by most Americans.
  • And (75 percent) feel they must make their voices heard.
  • In contrast, less than half (46 percent) of non-evangelicals think evangelicals must fight to be heard, and only (35 percent) of non-evangelicals think Americans look down on evangelicals.

When it comes to international issues evangelicals rank military strength (40 percent), controlling weapons of mass destruction (34 percent) and fighting terrorism (30 percent) as significantly more important than relief efforts (14 percent) or helping to improve the standard of living in less developed countries (9 percent).[7]

Beliefs in Biblical Stories

 The Washington Times reported on an ABC News poll among a sample of 1011 adults.[8] They found in the survey that a majority of Americans believe the Holy Bible is literally true and not just a book of stories that are meant to be interpreted as symbolic lessons.

 Their major findings were that:

 61 percent believe the story of the creation of the Earth in seven days as told in the book of Genesis is literally true.

  • 60 percent believe in the story of Noah’s Ark, the global flood, and God’s covenant to never destroy Earth again.

 

  • 64 percent believe that Moses really did part the Red Sea so the Jews could escape their Egyptian captors.

 

The survey looked at how different Christian Groups view the literalness of biblical stories. They disaggregated the survey findings into Mainline Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, and non-believers. What they found was the following:

  • Among Mainline Protestants 75 percent believe in the story of creation, 79 percent in the Red Sea account, and 73 percent in Noah and the Ark.
  • Among Evangelicals 87 percent believe in the creation story, 91 percent in the Red Sea account, and 87 percent in Noah and the Ark.
  • Among Roman Catholics 51 percent think the story of creation is literally true, while 50 percent believe in the Red Sea story and 44 percent in the flood.
  • Interestingly among those who said they had no religion 25 percent still believe in the creation story, almost a third in Moses and the Red Sea, and 29 percent believe in Noah and the Ark.[9]

A summary of information findings found on the internet tells of two different Harris polls taken in 2003 among Christians in the United States.

 They summarized some key findings which included:

  • 93 percent believe in miracles
  • 95 percent believe in heaven
  • 93 percent believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ
  • 96 percent believe in Christ’s Resurrection
  • 42 percent believe God is a male
  • 1 percent believe God is female
  • 38 percent believe God has no gender.

 

BARNA RESEARCH

 One of the most premier survey research groups in the United States is the Barna Research Group of Southern California. They conducted a nationwide survey in 2002 which indicated that a large share of the people who attend church were Protestant or Catholic. Those polled seemed to adopt beliefs that conflict with the teachings of the bible and the church.

 The data described was a national telephone survey among a random sample of adults (age 18 and older) living in the 48 continental states. The survey involved the responses of 630 people and had a sampling error rate of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points at the 95 percent level of statistical confidence. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a realistic sample of adults. [10]

 Type of Respondent

There is first a need to describe to the reader a few definitions of types of respondents used in the Barna research survey. They include:

 Born Again Christians

These were defined in their survey as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.[11]

Evangelicals

Evangelicals are a subset of Born Again Christians in the Barna survey. In addition to meeting the born again criteria, evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satin exists; believing that external salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the bible is accurate in all its teaching; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.[12]

 Notional Christians

Notional Christians are defined as individuals who consider themselves to be Christians but either do not have a personal relationship to Jesus or do not believe they will experience eternal favor with God based solely on his grace and mercy.[13]

Survey Results

Not one single teaching in the bible received a 100 percent support position in the Barna survey. However, there are some fundamentalist Christian precepts that most Americans held on to. The three classic precepts included the concept of the trinity, every person has a soul that will live forever, and the belief that the bible can only be correctly interpreted by people who have years of training in theology.[14] 

 The Trinity (in Christianity) is the belief that God manifests himself in one being in three separate and equal entities–God the Father, Jesus Christ the son, and the Holy Spirit. Some 79 percent of adults believed this to be a reality. Women were 85 percent in believing this while 72 percent of the men did.[15] [Monotheism is the belief in one God, such as found in Islam or Judaism. Christianity however puts a bizarre spin on the concept by creating three Gods as one or one God represented three ways. Some experts question whether Christianity can even consider itself a monotheistic religion in the first place.]

The idea that “every person has a soul that will live forever, either in God’s presence or absence, is believed by 79 percent of American adults (women 82 percent and men 72 percent). When training and interpretation is concerned, it is rejected by 76 percent of the respondents to the survey. The groups most likely to agree with this belief are African-Americans and Hispanics (24 percent of each group) and Catholics (22 percent). Even among these segments, however, less than one-quarter believe that accurate comprehension of the bible is beyond the capacity of the average person.”[16]

Conflict with Biblical Scripture

A majority or large minority of Americans often expressed points of view that conflict with the bible. These areas of conflict include the Nature of Spiritual Being, Sin and Salvation, and Sources of Truth. The following is a listing of the most important findings in the Barna Survey of 2002:

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed rejected the existence of Satan.

  • Fifty-one percent believe that praying to deceased saints can have a positive effect in a person’s life.
  • Thirty-five percent of the public surveyed believe that it is possible to communicate with others after they die.
  • Forty-two percent believed that when Jesus Christ was on earth He committed sins.
  • Fifty percent surveyed believe that anyone who is generally good or does good things for others during their life will earn a place in heaven.
  • As opposed to biblical teaching, three-quarters of adults (74%) agree that, “when people are born they are neither good nor evil—they make a choice between the two as they mature.
  • Forty-four percent of those surveyed contend the Bible, Koran, and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truth.

It is interesting to report the conclusion of George Barna. He was not surprised by the results of the survey. Barna is the author of numerous books about the religious beliefs and practices of Americans, including The State of the Church: 2002.[17]

According to Barna, “Over the last 20 years we have seen the nation’s theological views slowly become less aligned with the bible. Americans still revere the bible and like to think of themselves as Bible-believing people, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Christians have been increasingly adopting spiritual views that come from Islam, Wicca, secular humanism, the eastern religions and other sources. Because we remain a largely Bible- illiterate society, few are alarmed or even aware of the slide toward syncretism–a belief that blindly combines beliefs from many different faith perspectives.”[18]

 According to Barna, “the passing ahead of a Christian heritage from one generation to the next appears to be rapidly dissipating in America.”[19]

 What do the surveys mean?

 The survey data from Barna and other surveys strongly suggests that the slide toward syncretism may, in part, be responsible for the decline of Christianity in the 20th Century and is part of the reason why Christianity will likely decline in numbers in the future.

 It was once said that all values were up for grabs in the 20th Century. Evidently, the trend toward freedom of religion and freedom from religion took heart in America during the last century. This is only supposition but it is possible that the alienation produced by some fundamentalists with their disdain for other world religions, and their disdain for liberal and mainstream Protestant denominations within Christianity, created an atmosphere where younger potential converts looked askance at religious institutions altogether.

Later in Part III of this series the work of Eric Hoffer will shed light on the characteristics of The True Believer. What is revealed is that there is a very definite psychological component as to why people believe as they do. The psychological nature of human behavior begins to get at the root of why people believe in religion at all.

 


[1] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 17.

[2]  “Guess Who Doesn’t Believe in God?” Netscape Network News  n.d. [online  newspaper] ; accessed 26 Aug. 2004; available from http://cnn.netscape.cnn.com/ns/news/package.Jsp?name=fte/not believe in God/not.

[3] Ibid. 

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Poll: America’s Evangelicals More and More Mainstream But Insecure,” Religion and Ethics Newsweekly   13 Apr. 2004 [online newspaper]; accessed 15 Nov. 2004; available from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religion-and ethics/week/release.html

[7] Ibid.

[8] “WHO Says the Bible is Literally True?” Netscape Network News  n.d. [online newspaper]; accessed 26 Aug. 2004; available from http://cnn.netscape.cnn.com/ns/news/package.jsp?name=fte/holy bible/holy bible

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Barna: Americans Are Spiritual But Postmodern,”  The Christian Post  9 Aug. 2005 [online magazine]; accessed 14 Mar. 2005; available from http://www.the good stewart.com/article.php3?articleID=1285

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

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